Reflecting back on our two+ year journey through infertility, I can think of a lot of things I wish I would have known and been prepared for when we got started. This is a journey that never ends, even after you’re pregnant. For my friends who are still working at achieving their dreams or have experienced the trials of infertility treatments, I hope you can relate to my list of nine things I wish I would have known before we started this process.
1. You go in naive and hopeful…
I’m talking full-blown, wide-eyed, rainbows and sunshine naive. “This will only take one or two tries, three max!” naive. “We can afford $4000, worst case scenario!” naive. We picked the perfect donor, informed our families, planned our finances around two or three cycles and went for it! After all, we weren’t really infertile… just missing a penis. In fact, our medical records at our RE’s office list “azoospermia” as our infertility diagnosis. Even though we went in thinking positive thoughts, it only took a couple of cycles to realize we were going to have a problem.
2. …but quickly realize it’s not going to be easy.
On my first Clomid cycle, I had one follicle that only made it to 16mm. Through my other 4 cycles, my uterine lining and follicle sizes were absolutely all over the map, and I never responded well to increased dosages (up to 150mg at one point). When we switched to Ashley, her cysts turned out to be such a huge problem that she had to undergo a cystectomy to save her ovary from a hemorrhagic cyst. (Our RE was actually so excited about the success of the surgery that he gave Ashley a massive high-five after seeing that her ovary was still producing eggs at her next ultrasound.) Wading out into the uncertain waters of infertility treatments is scary, because you never know what sort of problems you will find and/or create while you’re in there. Clomid can lead to early miscarriage because of it’s effect on the quality of eggs and the uterine lining. It can also lead to a high risk of cancer, which is why our RE and many others impose a cap on how many cycles you can use it (6 for us, I’ve had 5 and Ashley has had 4.) It’s a rough balancing act, because as lesbians we don’t need the type of care that an RE usually provides. We refused all fertility testing because we didn’t want to pay for or undergo expensive and invasive procedures when we didn’t even know that we would have trouble conceiving. We decided to use Clomid because we wanted higher chances, even though there were extra risks. You really are going in blind, weighing your options and picking what is the cheapest/fastest/highest success rate/lowest risk… and no one treatment fits into all those categories.
3. You start to experience loss.
I’m not just talking about miscarriage and stillbirth here, that would be obvious. I lost my pregnancy at 5 weeks after my second IUI, and until we lost Rohen it was the saddest thing that ever happened to me. Losing Rohen was like having our hearts ripped out of our chests. I’ve written until my fingers were cramping about both of those, but the sadness I’m talking about now lies in something smaller and less conspicuous than that. It’s in every single negative pregnancy test. It’s on your first cycle when that blissful hope dies out for the first time, and it’s on the ninth cycle after you told yourself last time you weren’t going to be able to recover from another failed cycle. It’s when trying becomes almost a habit, ultrasounds and Clomid and inseminations over and over again, and still no results. Ashley barely made it through our last three inseminations, she was so sure that there was no way this would ever work. I think the saddest thing about this is that no one wants to hear about it. Depression is incredibly lonely, and it’s even lonelier when you’re grieving for something that no one else can see was even lost in the first place. During the two week wait after inseminations, you fantasize about the baby implanting and growing, dream of your due date, expect and wish for this one to be it. When that test comes back negative, it’s like it’s own little miscarriage. It really is the miscarriage of a dream. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that family and friends will recognize the magnitude of this loss, and so that pain gets internalized. The depression during and after infertility is a special kind of emptiness. An empty womb is so heavy to bear.
4. You become addicted to POAS (peeing on a stick)
And I mean addicted. I’m talking about clearing the entire shelf of 88 cent Walmart tests (First Signal, it’s like the meth of POAS addition). At one point, Ashley and I left Walmart with two entire grocery bags full of tests, probably about 10 brands. Oh sure, you’ll tell yourself you’re just going to “test out the trigger”, but it soon turns into daily testing. “IS THAT A LINE?” “LOOK AT IT THIS WAY AND SQUINT YOUR EYES IT KIND OF LOOKS LIKE A LINE!” “WAIT, LET’S LOOK AT IT IN NATURAL SUNLIGHT, THEN WE WILL BE ABLE TO TELL!” “TAKE A PICTURE OF IT, IF WE CAN SEE THE LINE IN THE PICTURE THEN WE WILL KNOW IT’S REALLY A LINE!” “IT’S 9DPIUI DO YOU THINK THERE’S STILL TIME FOR A BFP?”
You’d think that all this madness would end when you FINALLY get that BFP… nope, not at all. In fact, Ashley took pregnancy tests every single day until our first ultrasound. (Not so) funny story: On the morning of our first ultrasound, Ashley peed on a stick (her usual routine) the test came up BARELY positive, even though we had been having very distinct positives for weeks. She woke me up telling me that she was losing the baby. I called our doctor, Shane, at 7am and told him our concerns. He met us at the office early and fit us in several hours before our scheduled appointment, which was awesome because then we found out we were having the twins. Sheer terror became sheer bliss instantly! (But it’s pretty much still sheer terror because, you know… twins.)
5. Everyone starts getting pregnant and you become uncontrollably bitter towards them (no matter how hard you try not to.)
And you will feel like a horrible human being for it. Crack whore friend from high school? BABY! Perpetually drunk friend? BABY! (Still no word on that baby daddy though.) Everyone and their mother will be getting knocked up like it’s going out of style while you cry over your period. At one point during our attempts to get pregnant, our nephew’s 14 year-old ex girlfriend got pregnant. It’s not always just pregnancy, sometimes it’s just shitty parenting. It’s seeing people smoke through their pregnancies, hearing them swear at their kids or call them names… The day after my miscarriage a pregnant friend called us in tears because she was having a boy instead of a girl. Smile big, ladies… and never let them know that you’re walking the fine, blurry line between saying, “I’m so happy for you!” and hearing,”We, the jury, find the defendant…”
6. The cost becomes astronomical.
There really isn’t much to say about this, except that sperm is damn expensive. I can’t believe that people even jerk off without selling it, what a waste. We spend about $300 per vial of sperm, and each vial is good for one try. (And those are bargain prices, dude. That is like the Costco price.) Each IUI cycle costs about $1000 in fees from our RE’s office. Throw in a labor and delivery, a cystectomy and a few other complications, and these twins cost us about $25,000.
7. You start getting really awful advice from your fertile friends.
I wrote a post called 6 Questions Every Infertile Woman Answers a while back, and I think I touched on this topic pretty thoroughly. The big questions/comments: Why don’t you just adopt? If you stop trying, it will happen. Maybe God doesn’t want you to get pregnant. You should stand on your head. You want kids? Psh, take mine! You should sacrifice a goat to the waning gibbous moon on the 4th of September while dancing naked in the woods. (I may or may not have made that last one up.) The bottom line is that your well-meaning friends will be coming from all directions with advice that is pretty much irrelevant to your situation. The best advice I can give to a woman who is getting a lot of unnesscarry advice is to remember that your friends are trying to help, and sometimes sharing what worked for them is the only way they can contribute. So smile, nod, and say thanks. I’ve had the “maybe you’re not meant to get pregnant” thing tossed in my face a handful of times… in fact my sister in law told us today that losing Rohen was Mother Nature’s way of telling us that we aren’t meant to be mothers. Situations such as this may require punching on or around the face area, use your best judgement.
8 You start getting really good advice from others who have struggled to get pregnant, and you find comfort in the community.
My first line of defense was a handful of supportive friends. Then came the amazing family that we found in the staff at ACFS, our RE’s office. Our nurse, Lisa, was with us almost every step of the way. She moved to California right before the insemination that resulted in the twins, but we are still making Harper’s middle name Andersen, which is her last name. Our doctor, Shane, put up with our constant worries went out of his way to keep us positive. The office staff laughed with us, gushed over our ultrasounds with us, and comforted us when we came back into the office defeated, ready to start another cycle that we knew would probably be unsuccessful. We found forums… a place to vent our fears and ask questions that we felt too stupid or embarrassed to ask people in real life. We learned a new language from them… the language of infertility. (DP got a BFN on a FRER HPT 10DPIUI, any chance we could still get a BFP?) Finally, we found blogland. This blog started as a way to keep our friends in the loop, and as we explored the stories of others we learned that we are not alone. No matter how scared and lonely this got, other women were feeling the same emptiness, the same terror, the same joys and the same hopes. Now, I only wish that we would have connected with you all earlier… It would have brought us enormous comfort before and after losing Rohen.
9. It will all be worth it in the end.
It really, really will be. Even if we weren’t pregnant with the twins now, it would still have been worth it. We loved our children before we even started working for them. We loved the one that I lost, and we loved Rohen, and we love these twins. The love a mother can have for a child is indescribable… it’s an all-consuming love that makes you glow from the inside out. It warms you up when you start to feel the iciness of grief. Just to have loved them, even if I was never able to hold them alive, was worth everything. Infertility has an end for every woman, but the ends are so vastly different. Some of us will continue to lose, and will never carry a child. Some of us will succeed and go on to pinpoint their fertility problems and carry multiple times. Some of us will turn to surrogacy, fostering or adoption. The most important thing is that every infertile woman gains a mother’s heart as the prize for her sorrow. Loving children before they are with us grants us a graceful and tender heart. I was told when we lost Rohen that one day I would understand the purpose for him dying so soon. I am non-religious, I do not believe that his death was a part of a plan. I do, however, believe that as his mother it is up to me to give his life purpose. The purpose I have found is this: like a garden, soil must be tilled if flowers are to take root and thrive. Rohen made my spirit his garden, preparing it for a love so grand it can’t be explained with words. Had he not been there, left his mark, I don’t think I would be half the mother I know I will grow to be. However we become mothers, whether our arms remain empty or get so full that they are overflowing, our heartache will be worth it in some way or another. I can promise you that.
TTC mamas, I say this all the time… but you are in my heart, all the time. I promise you that one day this sorrow will magnify your joy. No rain, no rainbow.